Rediscovering roots

Our series celebrating Thon Buri's 250th anniversary continues with a look at Klong San, a traditional trading hub that has become a new hipster hangout

On the Thon Buri side of Chao Phraya River, Klong San is an old school community, a trading district since the early Bangkok period. It was the home of one of Siam's most powerful clans, the Bunnag family, and is the birthplace of the Princess Mother of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Thon Buri celebrates its 250th anniversary this year and Klong San exemplifies the ongoing transition of the area: a mix of historical appeal with the new cool of the hipster age, as old shophouses sit next to galleries, bookshops and cafes (see sidebar).

Located not far from BTS Wong Wian Yai and also opposite Si Phraya on the Bangkok side, Klong San has long been home to Thai, Chinese, Muslim and Hindu traders. The area boasts busy markets, ancient Buddhist temples, Chinese shrines, mosques, old houses and historical places, and is a food paradise. Among the popular destinations are Wat Anongkharam, Wat Pichayayatikaram, the Tiger God Shrine, the Princess Mother Memorial Park and Seyfee Mosque.

The name Klong San is derived from a canal that runs along the Chao Phraya, meets several waterways in the Kudee Cheen area and flows to the Bang Luang, or Bangkoi Noi, canal. It was mentioned as "Sarn Gal R" in an English map of Bangkok created during the reign of King Rama II. It was believed to be formerly called Klong San Hong.

Klong San Canal was later widened and deepened to allow large vessels to travel to the Chao Phraya River, when Somdet Chao Phraya Borommahasrisuriyawong (Chuang Bunnag), regent in the early years of the reign of King Rama V, built a ship called Akkraratbanyong. But the golden period of Klong San was in the Third Reign because this is where several of Siam's most powerful officials from the Bunnag family lived. As they were in charge of the Kingdom's finance and overseas trade, their neighbourhood, Klong San, attracted many foreign traders and migrants, including Lao Wiang and Muslims from Sai Buri and Pattani, to settle down.

"This waterside zone, or Thon Buri, used to be the city centre. Later, there came a shift of power. Palaces were moved to the other side of the river, the Bangkok side, while people, including the major clans, remained here," historian Assoc Prof Srisak Walliphodom said, "Klong San borders urban areas and orchards. It was an old style town with many commercial ships coming and going. It became an urbanised area and beautiful zone of Bangkok."

According to the historian, Thon Buri is located on sea marsh and a river delta suitable for agriculture, especially fruit orchards. Certain documents call the area "Tha Jeen" for being a trading hub for locals and Chinese. In the 19th century, a number of Chinese people travelled by boat and settled down on the coasts and developed plantations by digging dykes and mounds and bringing in and growing foreign plants. Besides those Chinese farmers, a number of Chinese merchants settled in Thon Buri. These people were ancestors of many Bangkokians.

Klong San is where the largest fort built for the protection of the city stands. Pong Pajjamitr Fort was built during the Fourth Reign in 1852 as King Rama IV ordered the construction of eight forts in a European style on both sides of the river. Its current size is only one-fifth of the original. In 1949, the Thon Buri Municipality threatened to demolish the decaying fort unless the Fine Arts Department listed it as an ancient national monument.

Nearby is the Signal Flagpole, which was originally installed in the compound of the Grand Palace and moved to the Pong Pajjamitr Fort during the Fifth Reign. During the Sixth Reign, the flag pole was moved to its current location near the Klong San district office and has been unused for years.

Visitors to Klong San should not miss the opportunity to taste delicious food, including Tha Din Daeng area's famous han phalo (stewed goose in Chinese herbal brown gravy) and lek tao ko (Chinese mungbean pastry).

Then, of course, check out the "new" Klong San: the area has over the past few years seen cafes, restaurants, and art space spearheaded by Jam Factory. The traditional has welcomed the cool -- and that way Klong San lives on.


This year, Thon Buri celebrates its 250th anniversary as an old capital of Thailand. Of all the commemorative events, the first series in February involved "Klong San", the second in April "Bangkok Yai And Bangkok Noi", the third in June "The Sampeng-born Chinese In Thon Buri", the fourth in August "Three Mosques, Three Periods Of Time", the fifth in October "The People Of The Venice Of The East", and the last one in December "King Taksin, The Monarch Of Krung Thon Buri". Visit www.facebook.com/RaluekThonburi.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Pichaya Svasti
Position: Life Writer